For Boro Milovic, the founder and the curator of WeLoveBrussels, Brussels is a modern melting pot. It is an ever changing world of young and talented artists, busy politicians, confused diplomats and progressive minds who blend together into this unique city. The city itself is also an interesting mosaic of neighborhoods – some run down, and some polished and glossy. Since 2014 WeLoveBrussels started offering alternative ways of seeing this city.
Boro is a digital entrepreneur with many successful projects behind him. He is also a part of Europolitan Trends, but in this article we talk to Boro how he decided to change the face of Brussels with an idea to grow from a small Instagram profile to a loud online community. We spoke to Boro about development of WeLoveBrussels, social media world, city branding and other stuff close to his heart.
What was your motivation to start the WeLoveBrussels?
It is simple. Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the capital of the European Union. It is also a beautiful place, full of life, history, good food and great people. Nevertheless, there are many reasons why Brussels is often under-appreciated and under-respected. Some see Brussels as boring, bureaucratic and gray. This negative image is often amplified by other stereotypes. In addition to its diverse population, Brussels welcomes thousands of tourists and commuters every day. Consequently, people often perceive it solely as a place of work and not as their home. This is overwhelming for the city. As a consequence it ends up being lost, unable to show its positive sides. Therefore, I felt that Brussels needs more love, more appreciation and more recognition.
Taking all of this into account, I believed that Brussels has people who love it and who care for it. All these people had to be connected in order to be visible and heard. This is why I started WeLoveBrussels. I hoped that such a community could spread love for our city and inspire positive actions among its diverse communities. I am happy that the platform brought together locals, expats, tourists, and commuters, who daily inspire each others.
What is the project about?
All in all, it’s an innovative urban communication platform connecting people with the city, sharing positive stories, images and ideas. We aim to create a fusion between a new age digital magazine and a highly engaged community. Our platform is community-driven, interactive, social media-focused and adapted to ever-growing number of mobile users. It focuses on visual content and creativity with the aim to inspire people who follow it.
WeLoveBrusels is also a community of digital influencers, urban enthusiasts and experts from different fields who share a common passion for Brussels. We constantly look for instagrammers, photographers, twitterers, urban researchers & academics, bloggers about food, fashion, mobility, design, culture, architecture and give them stronger voice and a way to reach much larger audiences.
What is your favorite social media platform/network?
Boro says that Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are spaces where real conversations take place.
It’s definitely Instagram. Thanks to Instagram we have been able to grow our platform significantly and we were able to build the community around it. WeLoveBrussels initially started as a social media channel but it grew so fast that we decided to build a bigger platform, which includes strong presence on all social media networks, on the web, on Viber, and in print collaborations with magazines and other creative outlets. But all of this was possible thanks to Instagram. What I love most about Instagram is that it’s simple, visual, mobile, inspirational and engaging. It embodies all the features that our platforms is about. Actually, it has all the features that any modern media outlet should strive to have.
What has been the impact of WeLoveBrussels on Brussels?
When we first started there were just a few Instagram profiles about Brussels. In only two years WeLoveBrussels has become widely recognized for its digital collection and information it holds about Brussels. There are now more than 66,000 photos with a #welovebrussels hashtag and more than 50,000 people who follow @welovebrussels on various social media channels.
The impact? I would say it’s twofold. We created a community of people who are passionate about Brussels. Citizens are co-creators of modern cities and through our digital community we want to contribute to a more sustainable, innovative, creative, entrepreneurial and smarter city. Therefore, this project contributes to the internal community-building and city-making inside of Brussels itself, while at the same time it makes a great impact on city branding through a positive image of our city that we share to the outside world.
Do you think that this is the future of city branding?
Yes, absolutely. Many city branding practitioners and experts will confirm that the new approach to city branding is to engage digitally and include citizens in your marketing strategy. I believe that residents are the best ambassadors and promoters of a city. When our project kicked-off in 2014, we championed this bottom-up approach in Brussels, focusing on the power of community and user-generated content. After the attacks in March 2016, there have been many other initiatives and campaigns in Brussels. Most of them focused on the people and promoted their campaign hashtags inviting people to contribute with the content. We loved and supported all these actions (example 1, example 2) but we believe that city branding is rather a long-term process, which involves a lot of strategic thinking, creative engagement, and involvement of all relevant stakeholders. Unfortunately, perceptions cannot be changed through a ‘campaign’ or an ‘initiative’ even though some of those have been very interesting and creative. The issue here is that they were mostly short-lived and often top-down, instead of bottom-up i.e., developed by marketing agencies, media/newspapers. On the other hand, nowadays Visit Brussels is doing a pretty good job with the community involvement and digital promotion of the city.
I am very happy that our #welovebrussels community is constantly growing and that it greatly contributes to the efforts of building a positive image of Brussels.
What have you learned from your followers?
Curating of social media and building a community-platform is a hard work. I believe very deeply in the power of social media as a tool, but an unskilled practitioner can do more harm than good. I learn from our followers on a daily basis. They get in touch through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and share their views – mostly positive, but sometimes also negative. I am aware of the fact that WeLoveBrussels has a huge impact in Brussels and that lots of people follow what we say and publish.
What magazines do you read and what are your favorite social media accounts?
Speaking of print magazines, I love Monocle – my absolute favorite. Their issues are always inspirational and timeless in a way. Also, they stand out – believing in the power of print and not giving in to the supremacy of digital. Speaking of other media favorites, I would pinpoint Ryan Heath, author of Playbook (Politico Europe’s popular morning briefing). He is well-known to all of us in the ‘EU bubble;’ I love the way he breaks into the (often) sterile environment of EU affairs and politics, making our mornings ‘great again’ thanks to his unconventional newsletter. And when it comes to social media influencers, I like to follow the work of Gary Vaynerchuk, an inspirational figure, entrepreneur and pioneer of the social media marketing.
Is there anything that you think could be improved in Brussels?
Lots of things, like in any big city. I’ll make it short: air pollution, tiding up the dirty streets, better conditions for cycling and improved public transpiration.